With three losses in six games, the beginning of the new year hadn’t been kind to Harlan County. The Black Bears took a big step toward getting back to where they want to be on Tuesday, knocking off regional contender Knox Central 55-45.
“I thought our kids played harder tonight than we had in a while. When we did get tired our bench came in and they did a good job. We did some things better that we have been working on, but there are still a lot of things we have to work on,” said Harlan County coach Mike Jones. “These kids want to win. They don’t want to lose. We have not not done well in the last month, and we will try to get better by tournament time.”
Harlan County looked to the interior throughout the first quarter. Senior Aaron Caldwell had six points, while sophomore Tyler Miller added five in the opening period. A three-point play from Miller followed by a with a putback off of an offensive rebound by Caldwell gave Harlan County a 15-9 lead with less than one minute remaining in the first, but Knox’s Dustin Hensley drained a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to close the gap to three.
Harlan County continued to find success in the post in the second quarter. The forward trio of Caldwell, Miller and Fred Massey combined for 11 of the Bears’ 13 points in the period as Harlan County took a nine-point lead into the half. Harlan County led by five with less than a minute left in the half, but Massey had four points in the final minute and Cody Bumgardner scored off of a James Bond steal to make it 28-19.
“We made that little run right there at the end and trapped the ball probably as hard as we have in a month and stole the ball a couple of times,” Jones said.
A trey from Alex Sergent pushed the lead to 12 midway through the third quarter, but Knox responded with a run to close the period. Jeffrey Adams had a pair of 3-pointers as the Panthers closed the third on a 12-6 run to pull within six. Adams had five treys and finished with 17 points to lead the Panthers.
A basket from Dustin Hensley pulled Knox to within five with 3:23 remaining in the contest, but Harlan County limited the Panthers to just one point from that point. On the opposite end Bond scored off of a steal, and Caldwell followed with four points in the final 1:05 to seal the win. Caldwell finished with 18 points and six rebounds in the contest.
“I’m just glad to come out of here with a win against a good team. They have a good ball club. They have some experience out there in spots,” said Jones.
Harlan County (17-4) returns to action Friday at Danville, while Knox Central (12-8) will face Johnson Central Saturday at North Laurel.
Zach Wilson had 12 points and Massey added 11 as Harlan County defeated Knox 39-30 in the junior varsity contest.
Trey Sanders recorded six points for the Black Bears, while Bumgardner and Zach each added five points.
Harlan County (55) — Tyler Brewer 8, Alex Sergent 5, Chad Massingill 6, Aaron Caldwell 18, Tyler Miller 8, James Bond 2, Zach Caldwell 2, Cody Bumgardner 2, Fred Massey 4.
Knox Central (45) – Jeffrey Adams 17, Jacob Wilburn 2, Dustin Hensley 15, Brad Marsee 7, Tobie Merida 4, Hunter Tye 0, Brandon Garrison 0.